Knee cartilage injury

Woman with knee pain

​​​​​​​​​Your knee joint consist of your shinbone, thighbone and kneecap. It has two kinds of cartilage, which is connective tissue that acts as a shock absorber for your joints. 

The meniscus is a pad of cartilage at the top of your shinbone inside of the knee joint. Each of your knees has an inside meniscus and an outside meniscus that protect your knee joint and help your body absorb weight. When people talk about a knee cartilage injury, they are often referring to a torn meniscus.

Articular cartilage is on the ends of the bones that make up your joints. It is smooth and slippery to enable your joints to move freely without rubbing and grinding against each other. 

Osteochondritis dessicans (OCD) happens when a portion of cartilage cracks and breaks off from the end of one of your bones. It can occur when the blood supply to the area is insufficient. Children and adolescents are most commonly affected by OCD, but an osteochondral injury can also affect adults.

Chondromalacia, happens when the cartilage on the underside of your kneecap softens and deteriorates. It’s seen most often in athletes but may also affect people with arthritis of the knee.

Knee cartilage injury causes and risk factors

Overuse or general wear and tear is the most common causes for a knee cartilage injury. Other risk factors include:

  • Blow or sudden impact on the knee

  • Muscle weakness

  • Incorrect knee alignment

  • Injury

Knee cartilage injury prevention

The following steps may help prevent knee cartilage injury:

  • Avoid abrupt movement or intensity changes when active

  • Avoid repeated stress on your kneecap

  • Exercise regularly to build endurance and stamina

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Warm up before participating in athletic activities

  • Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes

Knee cartilage injury symptoms 

The symptoms of knee cartilage injuries include:

  • Dull pain around or under your kneecap

  • Inability to straighten and extend your leg without pain

  • Knee joint that locks or freezes up

  • Pain that becomes worse when you go up stairs or an incline

  • Popping or grinding sensation in your knee

  • Sharp pain if a portion of your cartilage breaks off

  • Swelling and inflammation around the knee

Knee cartilage injury diagnosis

Diagnosis of a knee cartilage injury typically begins with a thorough examination and medical history. Your doctor will observe while you move the affected knee and ask you to detail your pain level and other symptoms. 

Diagnosis may also include:

  • Arthroscopy—a procedure that uses a small scope with a tiny camera and light that is inserted into your body to allow your physician to view the damaged area internally.

  • Computed Tomography scan of your bones (CT scan)—an imaging test that uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of areas of your knee joint.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)—uses a magnet, radio frequencies and computer to produce detailed pictures of organs and structures inside your knee.

  • X-ray— helps your doctor view and assess bone fractures, injuries and joint abnormalities.

Knee cartilage injury treatment 

We focus on non-invasive treatments whenever possible. Many times, rest and avoiding the activity that caused the damage until it has time to heal is all that is needed to get relief. 

In other cases, further treatment may be necessary, including:

  • Exercises—to increase movement, flexibility and strength.

  • Ice—to help reduce knee pain and swelling.

  • Medication—to minimize pain and reduce inflammation and swelling.

  • Custom orthotics—shoe inserts, especially if you have flat feet.

  • Injections—cortisone, hylaluronate, or biologics such as platelet rich plasma or stem cell therapy.

  • Physical therapy - to strengthen muscles and improve range of motion and balance.

  • Surgery—for severe or extensive damage. Most knee procedures are performed arthroscopically using a small device with a camera that provides a clear view of the inside of the knee. When the cartilage is severely damaged and knee pain restricts mobility and affects your quality of life, you may decide to have a cartilage transplantation procedure or knee replacement surgery. 

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, we have the expertise, training and leading-edge technology to diagnose and treat knee cartilage injuries. We want to get you back to your life as quickly and conveniently as possible.

Find a knee specialist near you.